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Chris MacKenzie,
U.S. PIRG

D.C. Council Introduces Fair Elections Legislation

D.C. Councilmember David Grosso Introduces Reform Bill, Joined by D.C. Fair Elections Coalition
For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a press conference this Tuesday, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso introduced fair elections legislation to empower small donors and reduce the influence of special interest groups in D.C. elections. The legislation was co-introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, and Mary Cheh. Grosso was joined by Councilmember Nadeau, as well as members of the D.C. Fair Elections coalition, including DC for Democracy, D.C. Working Families, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Every Voice, Communication Workers of America, and the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club. The bill’s introduction comes after major victories in Maine and Seattle, where residents voted to create and strengthen fair election initiatives this November.

“Public financing of campaigns would give greater voice to all voters and reduce the disproportionate influence of big donors in D.C. politics,” said Councilmember David Grosso. “We must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in and positively influence the political process, regardless of how much or how little they are able to contribute, or if they do not contribute at all.”

Councilmember Grosso’s fair elections legislation would match small campaign contributions to local candidates with limited public funds at a rate of five-to-one. Candidates participating in the program would be required to demonstrate broad public support and accept lower maximum contribution limits. Candidates for Mayor, D.C. Council and Attorney General would be eligible to participate.

"Democracy falls short when the views of a few wealthy donors carry more weight than the needs of thousands of working families,” said Delvone Michael, Executive Director of D.C. Working Families. "Those who donate the most money to campaigns should not wield a disproportionate amount of influence, and this bill goes a long way toward changing that."

“D.C. elections should be decided by D.C. residents, not an elite group of big donors and special interests” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG. “From Maine to Seattle, voters across the country are fighting for election reforms that put regular people back in control of our democracy. Today’s bill would amplify the voice of local voters and place D.C. at the forefront of a nationwide movement to reduce the influence of special interests in our elections."

Forty organizations have joined the DC Fair Elections coalition to encourage the council to pass small donor empowerment legislation, and leaders of that coalition are in the process of collecting thousands of petition signatures from around the district to demonstrate support. The new legislation comes on the heels of related victories in Maine and Seattle where voters created and strengthened small donor empowerment programs by passing clean election ballot initiatives. Both initiatives passed with wide margins of support, consistent with national polling that shows a vast majority of Americans from both parties support money in politics reform.

“Democracy is about everyone having a voice in government, not just special interests with deep pockets,” said Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau. “This legislation will allow District residents to rise above big-money special interests in politics. I support this bill because matching small donations with public funds helps give more power and influence to the people.”

"We need to increase public confidence in the integrity of our elections," said at-large D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman. "We need to put an end to the perception—and sadly, on occasion, the unfortunate reality—of pay-to-play politics in the District of Columbia. We need for residents to feel it’s their voice and vote—not simply money—that matters. A month ago, I met with three legislators from the New York City Council—Antonio Reynoso from Brooklyn, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, and Carlos Menchaca from Brooklyn, three progressive candidates of color—who said if it wasn’t for the public financing system in New York, they wouldn’t have been able to take on the big money interests to win election. That’s why I am happy to support the bill introduced by my at-large colleague today."

“DC for Democracy's core mission is increasing citizen participation in the District’s government, but time after time we’ve seen the voices of ordinary people drowned out by the wealthiest 1%. That’s why we see fair elections legislation as a game changer in DC politics,” said Keshini Ladduwahetty, of DC for Democracy. “Ordinary voters will get a bullhorn that gets the attention of political candidates and elected officials, and people-powered grassroots candidates will have access to the resources to run a viable campaign without relying on mega-donors."

"This legislation will build voter and community power across each of D.C.'s eight wards, encouraging candidates to gather support from all corners of our community and build relationships with small donors," said Matthew Gravatt, Chair of the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Legislation like this can amplify community voices and reduce the power of special interests, big polluters, and mega-donors in local elections, particularly on important conservation and environmental issues. District government and voters should support this common-sense campaign finance reform bill."

“Candidates for office too often must depend on wealthy donors who can give far more than the average D.C. resident can afford. This legislation makes it possible for candidates to garner more support from their own constituents and will increase the power of everyday District residents, regardless of wealth or racial background, to play a role in D.C. elections,” said Aquene Freechild, Democracy Is For People Campaign Director at Public Citizen.

"While the federal government in Washington, D.C. fails to act to reduce the influence of wealthy special-interest money in our elections, Washington, D.C. itself isn’t waiting on Congress,” said David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice. "Just as voters in Maine and Seattle demonstrated this year, everyday people across the country are ready to fight and win reforms that give everyday people a bigger voice in our democracy. Councilmember David Grosso’s plan to empower small donors is exactly the kind of change we need in order to move closer to the American ideal of government of, by, and for the people.”

“Councilmember Grosso’s fair elections legislation rightly directs candidates attention away from moneyed interests back to where it belongs…back to ordinary, District of Columbia, citizens,” said Chris Weiss, Executive Director of D.C. Environmental Network, “Too many times, the District’s sustainability movement has seen meaningful and important policy decisions derailed by a cadre of wealthy donors, at the expense of just about everyone else. Congratulations to Councilmember Grosso for again taking leadership and trying to empower more people to have more control over their own lives and communities.”

"We support this bill as one of many sorely needed reforms to ensure fair elections and reduce the clout of the One Percent. Our party and candidates already accept no corporate contributions. We've seen over and over how powerful business lobbies have used campaign checks to influence local decisions regarding land use, development, utilities, and education," said Scott McLarty, Media Coordinator for the D.C. Statehood Green Party.

“Demos applauds Councilmember Grosso for introducing the Fair Elections Bill, which will give the people of DC the opportunity to participate in political process in a real and meaningful way. Our research has shown that public financing allows for a more substantive legislative process that is aligned with the needs of the people—not special interests. We look forward to working with Councilmember Grosso and his colleagues to pass this much needed reform,” said Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Senior Policy Analyst with Demos.  

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The DC Fair Elections Coalition represents groups from the environmental, labor, economic justice, social justice, faith, and good government movements. Our mission is to pass meaningful campaign finance reform in D.C. to empower everyday residents and make sure every voice is heard in our democracy.

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